We are living in boom times. Residential living units, whether apartments or condos, seem to be sprouting just about everywhere you look, especially in and around Bellingham.

But with overdeveloped Seattle as a cautionary tale just a couple hours south, we need to get it right in our lovely neck of the woods. Urban living in planned communities where you can walk to amenities like grocery stores, shops, and other services, is a logical step, some say, for cities that want to control growth by building within city limits or developments. Planning experts advocate urban villages as the future for city dwelling, where you can work, relax, and play close to where you live.

We took a look at Bellingham’s urban villages, from Barkley Village to Old Town and downtown, from the Fountain District to Fairhaven, to find out the pros and cons of living there, and what our future might hold.

Tale of Two Fairhavens

Fairhaven Hotel a Grand Icon of the Past

Built in 1890, during the boom years of 1890–1892, the grand Fairhaven Hotel was a symbol of Fairhaven’s optimism and excitement. Most of that mood was due to the anticipation that Fairhaven, one of four settlements that later combined to become Bellingham, would be selected the terminus for the Great Northern Railroad. The hotel was completed in 1890, costing a reported $150,000 to build and another $150,000 to furnish, according to skagitriverjournal.com.

The railroad terminus did not come to pass (Seattle was chosen instead), but the plush hotel remained, with its intricate exterior and well-known tower and spire. The business weathered the financial panic of 1893, and for several years was the place to be, hosting social gatherings, 14-course dinners, and conventions. Literary giant Mark Twain was a brief guest (his short stay nonetheless earned him a statue dedicated last year in front of Village Books). The hotel closed in 1899, according to fairhavenhistory.com.

The family of prominent Fairhaven businessman C.X. Larrabee then took up lone residence in the hotel, but moved to the current Lairmont Manor building in 1916 after Larrabee’s death. The hotel later was home to other businesses along with private residences, but deteriorated over the years.

The hotel officially closed in 1931, later opening as a county recreation center. A massive fire gutted the structure in 1953, and a few years later, a Richfield Oil Co. gas station moved onto the cleared lot.

Fairhaven Hotel, built in 1890

Fairhaven Tower a Symbol of Fairhaven’s Development Today

With a nod to the past, Fairhaven Tower is designed to be a conspicuous symbol of Fairhaven district’s future with its combination of residential and retail. Construction on the five-story building at 12th Street and Harris Avenue, across from the Fairhaven Pharmacy building, began early this year and is expected to be finished by summer 2020. It will fill an empty lot once occupied by a gas station and familiar to some because of a hot-dog stand that once set up shop there.

With a distinctive clock tower rising 93 feet above street level, the project will dwarf most structures in Fairhaven, similar to how the old Fairhaven Hotel did two centuries ago. The building, with its 35-unit rental apartments and 5,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space built mostly in familiar red brick, will have a big impact on Fairhaven’s main commercial district both in the space it will occupy and in its retail presence.

The project is designed by Bellingham’s Zervas Group to be reminiscent of the past-era Fairhaven Hotel, an iconic presence in Fairhaven when it opened in 1890 before a fire decimated it 66 years later. Bellingham’s Alliance Properties, the developer, originally planned to recreate the grand hotel when it purchased part of the property in 2008, but changed to apartments to meet demand. Fairhaven Tower will feature upscale apartments and fifth-floor penthouses, along with a parking area and plans for a second building in the project’s next phase.

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"With a distinctive clock tower rising 93 feet above street level, the project will dwarf most structures in Fairhaven, similar to how the old Fairhaven Hotel did two centuries ago."